In the world of facilities maintenance, a twist on a popular proverb is certainly fitting. It takes a village to raise a building. That bad pun aside, caring for a facility is truly a team effort as it requires skills and experience over multiple trades, including HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and, of course, custodial and maintenance. No one knows this better than Jeff Gordon, Director of Business Management & Facilities for the Olentangy Local School District. In a suburb of Columbus, Olentangy is the fastest growing school district in Ohio and currently has over 20,000 students, 24 buildings, and approximately 120 custodial and maintenance staff. Jeff has been in his position since 2005, and the student population has nearly doubled in that time. That significant increase has brought many changes in how the facilities are built, maintained and renovated, but sticking with what’s proven and successful is also key. Finding that balance has worked well for Jeff and Olentangy.
While most educational facilities are typically decades old and often need renovation, improvements and updates, Jeff notes, “We’ve tried several different concepts in our district, but we have not jumped into the ‘let’s change a whole building for collaboration space’ way of learning.” By carefully watching what’s been successful (and not so successful) in larger school districts, Jeff’s approach to modifying spaces is a gradual process taken over several small steps. He points out, in terms of innovation, “There’s cutting edge and bleeding edge.” Being on the frontlines of innovation isn’t a requirement of an educational facility, especially if the need isn’t there. “We create the program first, and then create the space to go along with it,” he states. Jeff has found that the ability to adapt and do different things within the classroom is necessary, but doesn’t require a complete transformation of the space or building.
One initiative that Jeff has implemented is an energy efficiency project. It involves changing all the district’s interior and exterior lighting to LED, and replacing two older boilers, two older chillers and all the thermostat controllers. “By changing out the controls, it gives us the ability to gauge the environment and react to it, rather than have just an automatic, standard temperature setting.”
When it comes to flooring, Jeff likes to stick with tradition and he points out that VCT has been a tried and true product for the district. Asked about maintenance, he reveals that flooring installed in 2003 in one high school’s science classrooms still looks brand new. What’s the secret? “Stripping and waxing the floors, or top-scrubbing and refinishing on off years, is where we’ve put our focus in terms of maintenance,” he mentions. Jeff relies on his supervisors for the procedural specifics, such as how often maintenance is needed, what process to use, and with which products.
Aside from academic matters, everything facility related comes across Jeff’s desk. That includes promotions and presentations for the latest and greatest materials, products, furniture and equipment on the market. How does Jeff research, narrow down and ultimately decide on implementing changes to a space? “My philosophy is to find a district that’s already done it, that’s been doing it and doing it for a while, and see how it’s worked for them.” If it seems to be working well for others, the next step is to create test spaces and classrooms within the Olentangy district to see how it works for them.
Accountability is also at play when making facility changes. Answering to boards and committees about where (and why) money is spent, Jeff reveals, “What we can’t do is put something in place and then, two years later, take it out.” The board, and Jeff, are there to look out for the best interests of the school district and the gradual implementation of changes and improvements has, so far, been extremely successful.
Because most school districts have in-house maintenance crews, floor care providers aren’t typically needed for daily or routine maintenance. But, Jeff notes, they may be brought in for bigger jobs that require a special skill set. What does he look for in a provider? “Obviously, the quality of the product and the cleaning systems that they have, their availability and the training and support that they can provide to our supervisors and staff are all imperative, along with price,” he explains.
The Olentangy Local School District is comprised of 95 square miles and includes 15 elementary schools, five middle schools, and three high schools, with a fourth high school under construction.